As Absolute Carnage continues to kick our butts with its horror vibes and intense Symbiote storytelling, have you ever wondered who else has been Carnage in the past? Considering the event is tied to Carnage killing and eating every person who has worn a Symbiote thanks to the codex inside their DNA, you have to wonder if those who once wore the Carnage Symbiote will matter in the event. Marvel was gracious enough to release an entire trade paperback featuring every host and that’s out today!
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Serial killer Cletus Kasady isn’t the only one to bond with Venom’s sadistic offspring, Carnage! In fact, there’s a whole host of hosts – and they’re all here! First, Jonah’s son John Jameson succumbs to the symbiote, until Ben Reilly offers a more tempting meal – becoming Spider-Carnage! But the cosmic Silver Surfer may prove the most appetizing host yet! Dr. Tanis Nieves takes a turn, then joins the fight against Kasady when he transforms a whole town into Carnage, U.S.A.! Even the Avengers fall prey to symbiosis – but who will be the Superior Carnage? Karl Malus? The Wizard? Or Norman Osborn, whose perverse partnership transforms him into the Red Goblin!
Why does this matter?
This collection features eight main stories written between 1992 (Amazing Spider-Man #361) and 2018 (Amazing Spider-Man #800). That’s a lot of ground to cover for a relatively new character like Carnage. Another draw to this book is the amazing talent who worked on these stories, from Dan Slott to Tom DeFalco, Zeb Wells to Cullen Bunn, and of course the great pencilers like Mark Bagley and Joe Bennett.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This book really opened my eyes to how prevalent Carnage has been throughout the years. I always assumed Cletus Kasady was mostly the only host, and while the Symbiote prefers Cletus, it sure has clung to quite a few characters. This is a wide swath of Marvel history to comb through and it’s quite fun to see how the storytelling maintains a horror angle to the character. It gets much darker later on with Carnage, U.S.A. (largely due to Clayton Crain’s disturbing dark digital imagery), but make no mistake, a major element of Carnage is and has always been his love for murdering.
The book naturally opens with the Symbiote being birthed in Cletus and Eddie Brock’s cell and the introduction of the character. We’re only given the first introduction issue and not the full arc which had Venom and Spidey team up to take him out. You do get a good sense of Cletus as the host though, and we see him hosting the Symbiote again later. After that, the issue dives into the multi-part story arc involving Ben Reilly aka Spider-Man’s clone wearing the Symbiote. Then Tom DeFalco and Joe Bennett go cosmic with a surprising turn as the Silver Surfer was the host of the Symbiote, albeit he wasn’t in control. It’s a wild story that has a scope not unlike Cosmic Ghost Rider of late. A good chunk of this collection focuses on a female version of Carnage when it bonds with Dr. Nieves, who was a therapist to Shriek. This leads to a baby from Carnage’s Symbiote being born and a hell of a lot of trouble leading to Carnage taking over a town. Then, in Superior Carnage, Kevin Shinick writes a story that has a few folks host the Symbiote, from Dr. Malus to the Wizard. This stretch of the story is interesting since it involves the Superior Spider-Man when Doc Ock was in control of Spider-Man’s body, and it also features a Carnage who uses guns! Wrapping things up is Dan Slott’s epic finish to Amazing Spider-Man, which featured Norman Osborn wearing the Symbiote.
When it comes to collections like this, the story can get confused since there are large gaps between the arcs, but this collection features a bit of back story explaining how each story got underway. It does a great job not only setting up what is going on, but gives enough context to understand how the Symbiote has switched.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
This collection makes a strong case for why a story like Absolute Carnage needs to exist, since Carnage hasn’t changed much over 27 years. Every story plays out about the same way, with the new host not being able to control the murderous ways of Carnage and suffering for it.
Is it good?
This is a good collection that adds context as to how the Carnage Symbiote is itself a force of evil that can poison even the greatest of heroes like Silver Surfer. It’s also fun to read in one sitting all the ways Carnage was used and how its ability to change hosts is a boon to writers who want to mix things up.